Hamas attacked Israel in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021. In addition, it has continually fired rockets into Israel across the last eighteen years. In previous conflicts, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have acted to reduce Hamas’s weaponry and ability to wage war, then the two sides have declared cease-fires that left Hamas in control of Gaza. This time is different. The October 7 atrocities showed Israeli civilians that Hamas is committed to horrific acts of terrorism against them. More than 245,000 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes in southern Israel and have not been able to return. Hamas now possesses deadlier weaponry than in previous conflicts. So how should Israel respond to Hamas?
As a result, Hamas’s October 7 atrocities left Israel with “four bad options”:
- Use missiles to target Hamas strongholds but do not stage a ground offensive. This has been Israel’s response to past Hamas aggression. It would limit casualties among Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians. However, it would also leave Hamas largely intact and in control of Gaza, offering Israelis no assurance that its terrorists will not attack Israelis again in the future.
- Invade Gaza and reoccupy the territory. This would protect Israelis against future Hamas attacks, but it would incur enormous casualties and obligate Israel to long-term governance as an apartheid state. And it would likely foment future terrorism from outraged Palestinians in Gaza.
- Eliminate Hamas and leave Gaza. This would protect Israelis without incurring long-term engagement in the area. But the Strip would likely devolve into further chaos and violent conflict as other groups fight to fill the power vacuum.
- Eliminate Hamas and bring in another player to govern Gaza. The Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank would be the most likely, but its leaders are deeply unpopular in Gaza.
A fifth option, which pro-Palestinian advocates are demanding around the world, is for Israel to declare a cease-fire with Hamas. However, this would not only embolden the terrorists and those who support them; it would also permanently displace tens of thousands of Israelis forced to flee their homes in southern Israel after the October 7 invasion.
Israel’s response to previous Hamas attacks, which did not include a ground invasion, clearly did not deter the terrorists. As a result, many believe that the ground invasion underway at this writing is essential to securing Israel’s future.
This despite the fact that a long war could drain the economy as Israel continues to employ hundreds of thousands of reservists who are no longer doing their regular jobs. The escalating war could cause shipping companies to decide Israel’s ports are too risky, in which case the country could soon find itself running out of food as well.
NOTE: This resource article belongs to a series regarding the foundational issues behind the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The full series is also available as a free ebook.
“If we do not defeat Hamas, we cannot survive here”
As I followed reporting on this conflict from a wide variety of sources and viewpoints, I found a New York Times guest essay by Dennis B. Ross to be especially informative. Mr. Ross served in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, was the special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, and has served as a special advisor for the region as well. His article is headlined, “I Might Have Once Favored a Cease-Fire With Hamas, but Not Now.”
His central thesis: “It is clear to me that peace is not going to be possible now or in the future as long as Hamas remains intact and in control of Gaza. Hamas’s power and ability to threaten Israel—and subject Gazan civilians to ever more rounds of violence—must end.”
Ross notes that if Israel agrees to a cease-fire now, Hamas’s military infrastructure, leadership, and control of Gaza will remain intact. As it did after conflicts with Israel in 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2021, the terrorist group will almost certainly rearm for the next conflict. It will be able to add to its system of tunnels running under the area as well.
As a result, he warns, “the next round of war will be inevitable, holding both Gazan citizens and much of the rest of the Middle East hostage to Hamas’s aims.” Ross quotes an Israeli commander who said after October 7, “If we do not defeat Hamas, we cannot survive here.”
The October 7 invasion shocked the Israelis, who believed their sophisticated military intelligence and powerful defense forces would protect them from such atrocities.
Israel’s previous wars were fought by their soldiers against the soldiers of their enemies. Never before have so many civilians been slaughtered or taken hostage. In the new world created by the October 7 invasion, if a cease-fire is declared and Hamas survives, Israelis will know that they and their families will be in danger in ways unprecedented in the nation’s seventy-five-year history.
The future of the nation is in question
This fact is crucial to the calculus because so many Israelis live in Israel by choice. Theirs is one of the best-educated, most skilled workforces in the world. Every Israeli I have met would be imminently employable in any nation in the Western world. They have chosen to live in the State of Israel for the purpose of securing a future for the Jewish people.
If the nation can no longer defend them, its very reason for existence is in question. And the willingness of its citizens to risk their lives and their families could come into question as well, perhaps leading to an exodus of Israelis out of the nation.
As a consequence, through a combination of more advanced weaponry and brutal terrorist attacks, Hamas and its allies have raised for the first time the specter of a world without the State of Israel as we now know it. This is why my friends in Israel have said since Hamas’s horrific invasion that these terrorists must be defeated.
They understand firsthand what I have attempted to explain in this chapter: the future of the nation is now in the balance.
Conclusion: Our fifth step into spiritual awakening
Thus far, we have seen that advancing God’s kingdom through spiritual awakening requires that we:
- Make Christ our king and seek to serve his kingdom.
- Share his word and witness wherever we can.
- Love all people as Jesus loves all people.
- Pray fervently for spiritual awakening in the Middle East and in our hearts.
To these we can add a fifth element illustrated by this chapter: trust God to transform any human heart by his Spirit.
It is hard to pray for Hamas, but that’s what Jesus called us to do: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). The best resolution to Hamas’s antagonism toward Israel would be for God to change their hearts, turning them from the deceptions of radical Islam to the truth of his word and grace.
If we think this is impossible, we need to remember the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The Bible records that he “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Later he admitted that he “persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:4).
Of course, the persecutor Saul of Tarsus is known to the world today as Paul the Apostle. If God could change his heart, he can change any heart.
The worse things get in our post-Christian, even anti-Christian culture, the harder we need to pray. The more people reject biblical truth, the more they need biblical truth. And the more people persecute Christians and churches, the more we are called to pray for them.
Will you pause now to pray for God’s Spirit to bring the terrorists of Hamas into conviction of their sins and salvation in Christ? Ask Jesus to reveal himself to them in visions and dreams, something he is doing across the Muslim world today.
And remember: it is always too soon to give up on God.
Br. Geoffrey Tristram of the Society of St. John the Evangelist notes: “It’s not great faith that you need, but faith in a great God. Faith is like a window you look through. It doesn’t matter if the window is six feet high or six inches, or just the tiniest peephole in a telescope. What matters is the God that your faith is looking out on.”
How great is your God?